Published on Show Me Mizzou Sept. 4, 2023
Story by Joe Walljasper, BJ ’92
As a boy, Bill Busch’s ideal summer day involved tagging along with an uncle to float down Otter Creek near his hometown of Jerseyville, Illinois, looking for catfish lurking in the depths.
“We’d float under these willows, and he’d say, ‘Stay low, Bill, there’s water moccasins hanging right above your head.’ So I’d stay low,” Busch recalls. “That started me on a real journey as far as love for water.”
As a college student, he received a gift of scuba gear from the Jerseyville VFW after recovering the bodies of two people who drowned in local lakes. That ignited a lifelong passion that Busch, 85, passed on to generations of Mizzou students through the scuba class he created in 1964 and taught until 2020. His attention to detail was legendary — he prepared for his first year by recording himself reading the U.S. Navy Diving Manual aloud and then listening to the recording on long drives — and his level of commitment never waned as the decades passed.
“I talk to people from other universities who say, ‘Yeah, I took scuba when I was in college,’ but they can’t remember the details,” says Laura Vie, BS Ed ’84, a former student and Busch’s longtime teaching assistant before taking over for him three years ago. “People who have taken this class, they can’t forget it.”
Busch gave lectures on physics, physiology and oceanography. Students had to master the 19 skills he deemed necessary. They had to complete the infamous “do or die” test, which required diving into the pool wearing a blackout mask and calmly dealing with the alarming equipment failures that teaching assistants doled out.
Students completed their semester of training with an open water dive, either in the Cayman Islands or at Bull Shoals Lake in south Missouri. Those who made it all the way through and received their certification often emerged with a lifelong love for scuba and an appreciation for the teacher who challenged them.
“He changed my life,” says Keith Holloway, BS ’76, who is currently a member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators. “Since 1974, I’ve done over 2,000 dives. Most of the international travel I’ve done in my life has to do with scuba diving. I’ve been to Palau, Indonesia, the Caribbean. It’s because of Coach Busch.” He adds, “It’s amazing how one little decision to take a course can have such a large effect on your life.”
On June 3, Busch’s former students held a reunion at the Reynolds Alumni Center to honor their coach. More than 300 showed up, including University of Missouri President Mun Choi and alums from as far away as Australia, Guam and Japan. Busch received a lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Underwater Instructors, and Choi presented him with the Chancellor’s Recognition and Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Like I tell the good Lord, the ride has been tremendous,” Busch says. “It’s really quite gratifying. I can’t believe it happened to me. From the time where I learned to swim in Otter Creek to here, what a ride.”
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